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Sec of State Pompeo heads to Saudi Arabia. TRANSCRIPT: 9/17/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Nancy Cook, Eliza Collins

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Really, thank you very much for joining us.

That`s tonight`s LAST WORD.  "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, with the President on a rare visit to the West Coast, his agenda remains undecided.  There`s pressure on him now because of his own words on Iran.

Then there`s the U.S. Senate, a rare late shift tonight on the subject of guns.

Plus Corey Lewandowski goes to Capitol Hill claiming executive privilege having never worked in the White House.  He made the Democrats angry but that`s as far as it went.

And the new numbers out from the NBC News poll tonight, there`s been a shuffle in the Democratic deck.  Also a measurable shift toward a candidate who has chosen hand to hand and photo to photo combat out in the wild.  As THE 11TH HOUR gets under way on a Tuesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our MBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 971 now of the Trump administration, this President, who is very fond of saying we`ll see what happens, is quickly running up against some hard realities, which may not wait for him.

Today he was in California where he`s expected to raise $15 million for his reelection campaign.  Meanwhile the most pressing issues he is facing, like Iran and the tension his own Twitter account has caused, are not going away.

U.S. Intel, as you may know, is making it known they believe that this attack on Saudi Arabia`s main oil facility, a strike that was so large, the smoke plume was visible from space originated in Iran.  It instantly cut the world`s available oil supply by 5 percent to 6 percent.

NBC News reporting U.S. intelligence indicates cruise missiles fired at the oil facility came from at least one location, they say, in Western Iran.  White House reportedly weighing a range of retaliatory actions against Iran from cyber all the way to kinetic warfare.  And after saying the U.S. military was locked and loaded, now POLITICO reports that the President is leaning against an Iran strike.

Earlier today aboard Air Force One he told reporters this about a potential sit-down with Iran`s president, "I never rule anything out, but I prefer not meeting him."

Mike Pence, however, used Trump`s words to reiterate America`s military readiness to act if necessary.


MIKE PENCE, (R) VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  As the President said we don`t want war with anybody.  But the United States is prepared.  We`re locked and loaded.  And we`re ready to defend our interests and our allies in the region.  Make no mistake about it.


WILLIAMS:  Again with the locked and loaded, tonight Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on his way to Saudi Arabia where he will meet with friend of the administration and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss responses to Iran.

Earlier on this network former CIA Director John Brennan laid out the administration`s dilemma.


JOHN BRENNAN, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR:  Well, I know Donald Trump does not want to get into a war with Iran but unless he wants to repair the damage with Iran, meaning he wants to, you know, reinstitute the Iran nuclear agreement, he doesn`t have a lot of good options but he cannot leave this unaddressed.


WILLIAMS:  Of course you`ll recall the departure of John Bolton that means Trump is walking into this crisis without a permanent national security adviser.  Today, perhaps sensing that he named five candidates for the post, although the White House says there are other names under consideration aside from the five he mentioned.

As Trump tries to navigate a possible confrontation in the Middle East, he is also looking for a way to dial back the trade war with China.  This gets interesting.

Today he said, "I think there`ll be a deal, maybe soon, maybe before the election, or one day after the election.  And if it`s after the election, it`ll be a deal like you`ve never seen.  It`ll be the greatest deal ever."

He added that he believes Beijing thinks he is going to win reelection but that Chinese officials would prefer to be dealing with someone else.  his comments came days before U.S. and Chinese negotiators met for the first time in almost two months now.

Also while he was in California today, Trump renewed his complaints about the homeless in our country.  There was this, "We can`t let Los Angeles, San Francisco and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what`s happening.  We have people living in our best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes where they went to those locations because of the prestige."

The White House has recently ramped up efforts to address the increase in homelessness in their own way.  Trump has largely blamed the Democrats.

The other domestic issue looming over this White House is gun legislation.  That brings us to yet another front.  Republican Congressional leaders, McConnell and McCarthy could not be more clear.  They are going to sit this one out until they find out what the President wants to do.

Today the Attorney General Barr joined the White House legislative director, going to Capitol Hill at the President`s request to get input from senators on a possible bill.

Well, tonight Democratic senators took to the floor where New York Democratic senator and former presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand had some very direct words for the Republican presiding over the Senate at the time, Martha McSally of Arizona.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND, (D) NEW YORK:  Madam President, I am speaking to you and to every other Republican in this chamber because we all have a responsibility to do the right thing and stand up to the NRA and stand up to the greed and corruption that is in this country today, that makes every decision about whether we have a vote on common sense, gun reforms.

I`d like you to look up because I have to say this is something all of us should be caring about.  Especially from Arizona where my dear friend Gabby Giffords was shot for doing her job.

It`s not OK.  The time for turning a blind eye is over.


WILLIAMS:  Here for our leadoff discussion on a Tuesday night, four returning veterans of ours who will be with us for our first two segments tonight, Nancy Cook, White House Reporter for POLITICO, Michael Schmidt, Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Correspondent for "The New York Times," Robert Costa, National Political Reporter for "The Washington Post," Moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS, and Jonathan Lemire, White House Reporter for the Associated Press.  Welcome to you all.

And Robert because it is top of mind and happened most urgently tonight, what`s the stay of play according to your reporting on gun legislation?

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  At this moment Republicans on Capitol Hill do not believe the President is willing to spend much political capital, if any, on background checks and so they`re trying to come up with piecemeal legislation on red flag laws, on other aspects of gun control that could -- they could try to get some kind of Senate gang together, a coalition to push it through.  But they really fear that without leader McConnell and without President Trump putting their hands on the scale this thing, this entire process, it stalls.

WILLIAMS:  Michael Schmidt, Rex Tillerson, quoted by your newspaper tonight, remarks he made at Harvard that takes us to the front of Iran.  Tillerson "warned on Tuesday that his former boss, who fired him a year and a half ago, will have to tread carefully.  Tillerson said that building a concrete case against Iran would be difficult.  "I have no doubt that we will find Iran`s fingerprints on this," he said, "but we may not find their hands on it."

Michael, is this a case where the President`s words this weekend motivated or sped up a finding, only to have it all kind of fall back while people realize the potentially grave consequences?

MICHAEL SCHMIDT, THE NEW YORK TIMES WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Well, the President in an unusual spot here.  I was speaking to one of his confidants tonight who said that the President is increasingly concerned about the 2020 election and as he comes into it 13 months out he`s -- wants to proceed as cautiously as possible, whether it`s on Iran, whether it`s on guns and that he`s very afraid of doing anything to endanger his political standing and that`s why we`ve seen this back and forth and cautiousness that has certainly arose in recent days.

Look, the President often says a lot of different things about the same issue and that makes sort of assessing where he is and why he`s going to do something even more difficult.  But in this instance he looks at the political consequences of it and he sees that there would maybe a reality shorter down the line then if it was earlier in his presidency.

WILLIAMS:  Nancy Cook it is factual to say that this President came from real estate, and a 14-season reality television career in this very building and has learned what he knows about our military capability on the job when he learns about a new piece of hardware to him, like the F-35, he tends to mention it every chance he gets.  We`ll listen together to him on the subject of the military.  We`ll talk about it on the other side.


DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I tell you we could wipe out anything --

We have the strongest military in the world right now.

Now we`ve rebuilt our military like never before.

We have the best equipment in the world.  We have the best missiles.

There`s nobody that has the F-35, we have the best fighter jets, the best rockets.

And our military is by far the greatest in the world.  There`s nobody that even comes close.


WILLIAMS:  All of which, Nancy, brings us to the dicey question, God forbid, is he looking to preside even over a selective use of the military?

NANCY COOK, POLITICO WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  Well, I think that he will ultimately steer away from any serious action towards Iran just because he ran so vociferously in 2016 on not engaging in any military conflict.  And I think that he wants to made keep that promise to his base.

I do think, though, that those clips are interesting because they show that the President has always been very interested in sort of military hardware, military planes.  You know, we saw that with his 4th of July parade, with the planes flying over.  He`s always been very entranced by the trappings of military.  And I think that that`s why he talks about it so much and pays so much attention to the pomp and circumstance of it.  But he is very aware that a big campaign promise that he made in 2016 was not getting us into a huge, long, protracted conflict like Iraq or Afghanistan.

WILLIAMS:  Jonathan Lemire, we were locked and loaded this weekend, which the phrase that lives on with Mike Pence, then we get into more Twitter, some travel, some fund raising.  Is there a core message this week, or does it remain the same as last weeks?

JONATHAN LEMIRE, ASSOCIATED PRESS WHITE HOUSE REPORTER:  Well, certainly in terms of Iran, the President is sort of taking it one step at a time.  I think as pointed out by our -- the previous panelists, there is an inherent reluctance here to engage in extra military conflict, outside of a few air strikes in Syria he`s avoided that since taking office.  And there have been moments where he`s been up to the brink of it and backed off.  There are not many things that are -- about his ideology that are consistent but trying to avoid military action seems to be one of them.  That`s something he doesn`t want to do.

At the same time, you know, his inclination is to try to fix some -- to find some sort of deal.  And there was real momentum in the administration to come next week when the United Nations general assembly is in New York to meet with the Iranian leader here.  That was something he wanted -- he found that very appealing, much like he has had a few meetings now with like Kim Jong-un in North Korea, where he feels like the sheer force of personality rather than policy could lead to real changes.

WILLIAMS:  And no pre-conditions.

LEMIRE:  So I`ve heard.  Although that keeps changing too.  And that`s a good point.  I`m glad you raise that.  He is someone who does not want to ever be boxed in on something.

And sometimes he`s -- that means he`s undercutting a subordinate, sometimes that`s him talking on both sides of his mouth in the same issue within a matter of days.  He fancies himself this dealmaker.  He doesn`t want to be penned in or nailed down to any one thing.  He wants to be flexible.  He wants to keep the other side on edge, keep them guessing.

And therefore he wants to go into any sort of meeting, or in this case potentially confrontation, with the other side not knowing what he`s going to do.

WILLIAMS:  So Nancy, is there anything about the pending arrival of 2020?  Is there anything about the legislative calendar that will force him into a position other than his favored we`ll see what happens?

COOK:  Well, I think that one thing that could force his hand is if we continue to see the economy slow down anymore.  And that`s something that`s really out of his control.  But I do think that he will feel tremendous pressure, pressure that he`s very well aware of to cut some sort of trade deal with China which economists widely say is really causing a lot of the drag on the U.S. economy.  I think he`ll feel a lot of pressure to cut that deal, you know, heading into 2020 if it looks like the economy is starting to sour in any way.

WILLIAMS:  Robert Costa, he actually told his rally audience last night in New Mexico that he put up a section of border wall in the San Diego sector, he thought they were going to be appreciative they were not.  He considered moving the existing wall to the New Mexico border.  He was talked out of that because of cost.  We note he is visiting a section of border wall tomorrow.  What`s this about?

COSTA:  It comes back to the original premise, Brian, it`s all about 2020.  When you talk to White House officials, as I have this weekend, members of Congress, Republicans, they say this President has been stymied at every turn as he tries to pursue his signature pledge, the border wall.  He`s had a -- he`s supported the government shutdown to use federal funds to put money toward that goal.  At the same time he believes that he needs to make sure his base is coming out and culture war and grievances only take him so far.

And that`s why you have him hesitant, White House officials say, to really make bold steps on gun control because he knows NRA members are, in many respects, the core of that Republican Party, a political organization, an organizing apparatus that`s very important for his own reelection, and just like those voters who vote on immigration in the southwest, and Texas, and other parts of the country are as well.

WILLIAMS:  Hey, Mike, we`re going to talk about Mr. Lewandowski`s outing before the Democrats in our next segment.  But generally, is Donald Trump worried about these Democrat-led investigations?

SCHMIDT:  No, I don`t think so.  And the President`s confident who I spoke to tonight said that they were actually sort of surprised by how much the Democrats have struggled to get momentum behind their hearings and their impeachment.  They thought the Democrats would be much more organized and systematic in how they went after the President.  And today they thought, the President, you know, side thought was yet another example of that.  And they chalked today up to another victory for them.  They did not think that anything new came out that really changes the argument against the President.

And, you know, this sort of makes the impeachment issue, the impeachment issue brings all of the Mueller stuff into a partisan lens.  And I think that`s a place that the President`s comfortable with.

WILLIAMS:  Jonathan Lemire, I want to play for you and our audience one exchange, this President, on the subject of homelessness.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST:  New York City and San Francisco, Los Angeles, they`ve got a major problem with --

TRUMP:  It`s very sad.

CARLSON:  -- with filth.

TRUMP:  Very sad.

CARLSON:  Why is that?

TRUMP:  It`s a phenomenon that started two years ago.  It`s disgraceful.

And we may be -- you know, I had a situation when I first became President we had certain areas of Washington, D.C. where that was starting to happen and I ended it very quickly.  I said, you can`t do that.


WILLIAMS:  What do you reckon he`s talking about there?

LEMIRE:  It`s unclear.  I think homelessness has been an issue in this country beyond -- before two years.  And certainly we`re not aware of any sort of federal policy that President Trump and his administration have enacted in Washington of the last year or two to cut down on homelessness there.  That mean this -- he`s taking homelessness as a sort of cudgel to hit Democrats.  He`s going after cities that are run by Democratic mayors, New York with Bill de Blasio.

WILLIAMS:  Tucker called it filth.

LEMIRE:  Yes, as he did.  Yes, that`s right whether it`s New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Washington, these are all big cities, run by Democrats and the President has taken what is a visible issue and certainly homelessness is a concern for many and New York City is by most measures is booming but homelessness is on the rise.


LEMIRE:  But there is not a federal policy here.  There`s no attempt for the President to try to step in and act on this.  He`s simply using it to score political points against the other party, including a few members, Bill de Blasio, who are also running for his job, even if a sort of minor candidate for the post.

WILLIAMS:  As we mentioned in our newsroom tonight, because our walk home often involves it, the number of people living and sleeping within view of Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York City --


WILLIAMS:  -- is staggering these days.

Our guests, as I said, are willing to stay with us over this break.

And coming up, it was all show and very little tell on Capitol Hill today.  We bring you the highlights of Corey Lewandowski`s testimony.

Later, how Joe Biden`s rivals are looking to get past him in the polls.

And we pay tribute to two great names gone in just one day as THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on a Tuesday night.



COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FMR. TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER:  I had the privilege, and it was a privilege, of helping transform the Trump campaign from a dedicated but small makeshift organization to a historical and unprecedented political juggernaut.  And I am proud to say Mr. Trump won 38 primaries and caucuses and received more votes than any candidate in the history of the Republican Party.


WILLIAMS:  Corey Lewandowski, the former Trump campaign manager who is now considering a Senate run in New Hampshire, testified before the House Judiciary Committee today.

As you saw there it is likely his North Korean anchor woman quality opening remarks were meant for one viewer who quickly returned the favor writing, "Such a beautiful opening statement by Corey Lewandowski.  Thank you, Corey"

Lewandowski he was there as part of the impeachment investigation.  At least that`s what the committee and not the speaker insist on calling it.  The Mueller report details how the President had asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to then A.G. Jeff Sessions asking him to curtail the Russia investigation.  Lewandowski never followed through.

Today he did confirm the President`s request but that was about all the Democrats could get from their stone walling and at times hostile witness.


REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK, JUDICIARY CMTE. CHAIRMAN:  Mr. Lewandowski is it correct that as reported in Mueller report on June 19th, 2017 you met alone in the Oval Office with the President?

LEWANDOWSKI:  Congressman, I`d like you to refresh my memory by providing a copy of the report so I can follow along.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Chairman, I request that the clock be stopped while this charade is sorted out.

LEWANDOWSKI:  We`re on page 90, is it, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Chairman, you`ve got to start the clock.

NADLER:  No, I don`t have to start the clock while he`s filibustering.  Bottom of page 90.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Filibustering is a different issue.  That`s across the hall in the Senate.

LEWANDOWSKI:  The White House has directed I not disclose the substance of any discussions with the President.

NADLER:  The answer is, you know, you`re not answering the question.

LEWANDOWSKI:  But I`ve been asked by the White House to -- Congressman, I`d be happy to answer your question or you can just have a conversation by yourself.  But if you`d like to ask me a question, I`d be happy to answer.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE, (D) TEXAS:  No.  I just want to continue, the reason is because --

LEWANDOWSKI:  Well, don`t ask me a question if you don`t want my answer.

JACKSON LEE:  -- I`m reclaiming my time.  This is a House Judiciary, not a house party.

REP. HANK JOHNSON, (D) GEORGIA:  Why did it take you so long and you never delivered it?

LEWANDOWSKI:  Correct, I never delivered the message.

JOHNSON:  Yes, you chickened out.

LEWANDOWSKI:  I went on vacation.

JOHNSON:  You went on vacation?

LEWANDOWSKI:  In a letter from the White House dated September 16, 2019 --


LEWANDOWSKI:  -- to my attorney.

SWALWELL:  Mr. Lewandowski, that letter --

LEWANDOWSKI:  Mr. Lewandowski`s conversation with the President and with senior advisers to the President protected from disclosure --

SWALWELL:  Can we stop the clock from this obstructionist behavior.

LEWANDOWSKI:  That`s fake news.

REP. DEBBIE MUCARSEL-POWELL, (D) FLORIDA:  Can I reclaim my time, please?

REP. DOUG COLLINS, (R) GEORGIA:  Not if you`re continuing the vain (ph) you`re continuing with the questions saying that he committed a crime.

MUCARSEL-POWELL:  Mr. Collins, this is not a reality T.V. show.

NADLER:  I`ve been asked several times today whether the Committee will hold you in contempt.  It is certainly under consideration.

REP. MARY GAY SCANLON, (D) PENNSYLVANIA:  He took the time during that recess to launch his Senate campaign website with a tweet.  And I think that fact says an awful lot about the witness`s motivation to appear here today, and I`ve heard enough.


WILLIAMS:  As the congresswoman mentioned in the middle of the hearing Lewandowski did indeed post a message promoting a website for his possible, potential Senate run.

Once lawmakers were done, House Democrats used a career lawyer and a courtroom veteran, a professional at this kind of thing, serving as counsel to question Lewandowski.  And this attorney, Barry Berke, did get Lewandowski to admit he`s been less than honest, at least with the media.


BARRY BERKE, HOUSE DEMOCRATS` COUNSEL:  That was you saying on MSNBC you don`t ever remember the President ever asking you to get involved with Jeff Sessions or the Department of Justice in any way, shape or form, that wasn`t true, was it, sir?

LEWANDOWSKI:  I heard that.

BERKE:  And that was not true, was it?

LEWANDOWSKI:  I have no obligation to be honest with the media.  Just -- because they`re just as dishonest as anybody else.

BERKE:  So you`re admitting, sir, you were not being truthful in that clip, correct?

LEWANDOWSKI:  My interview with Ari Melber?

BERKE:  Yes.

LEWANDOWSKI:  Can be interpreted any way you like.


WILLIAMS:  So still with us are Nancy Cook, Michael Schmidt, Robert Costs, and Jonathan Lemire.

And Mr. Costa, get comfortable because you can take your time answering this.  What, in God`s name, is going on in the House of Representatives day after day?  We see Chairman Nadler get Charlie Browned by one individual or another, all of which gets a response, some version of, why I ought to.  What is -- what are their options right now as a committee because for most of the day this was not a good look for them?

COSTA:  When you talk to House Democrats they feel like they have a wholesale case they can make against President Trump.  His use of Trump properties, his personal conduct, the payments during the campaign to certain women, all these different issues in addition to everything that Robert Mueller found with his Russia investigation, they feel like they have a wealth of information to make a prosecutorial case for impeachment.

At the same time, when they watch the Democratic presidential race and you see Senator Warren in New York City drawing thousands on Monday night, earlier this week, they don`t see that similar level of talk of impeachment.  And so there`s a division in the Democratic Party about how exactly to move forward and Speaker Pelosi herself is someone who knows she won the House in 2018 because suburban voters really resonated and connected with the democratic message on health care and the economy, not necessarily because of what the Democrats were saying on impeachment.

That all being said, Chairman Nadler he runs a committee.  He wants to move forward.  He wants to be in control and make the case.  And so by bringing witnesses like Lewandowski they feel like they`re making a public case about who President Trump really is.  But they take a risk.

And a lot of Democrats, I talked to behind the scenes, sometimes cringe because as much as they want to sell the public on what President Trump has done and the people he surrounds himself with, they know not everyone`s paying attention and it doesn`t always click.

WILLIAMS:  Michael Schmidt, let`s play what if I told you in 2016, what if I told you in 2016 that there would be a full on investigation, headed by Robert Mueller, that he would issue a report that nobody would read, that when he testified people would come away feeling sympathy for him and that Democrats in the House chose to retell the story and then relitigate the case?

SCHMIDT:  Well, the thing about the Lewandowski testimony today is that his part of the Mueller report was actually new.  A lot of what came out in the report was stuff that had been in the press or stuff that the President had said.  But Lewandowski`s stuff was fresh and it told a new, different type of story.  The President going outside of his administration to someone that didn`t work for the government to pressure his attorney general on the special -- on the special counsel`s investigation.

And that really could have, you know, it really sort of shed new light on this.  But the Democrats, again, on Capitol Hill, who have struggled for so long to just get a witness finally having one today and still not being able to move the ball forward.  It seems like we`ve seen this before, and we will likely see it again another, you know, other people that they`re going to bring up there will take a similar posture to that and it doesn`t seem like they can get them to answer all the questions that they want.

WILLIAMS:  Nancy Cook it was truly remarkable to watch for most of the day, they couldn`t lay a glove on this witness and by 4:00 p.m. my colleague Nicolle Wallace put the word hapless in front of the Democrats.  Give us the full on, true regard or opinion for Corey Lewandowski within the Trump camp?

COOK:  Well, I think that the Trump camp, you know, the President has always really liked him, and that`s a very key thing.  But I think that there is a fair amount of suspicion about him within the Trump orbit.  The Trump kids have always been sort of suspicious of him.  I think that there are some members of the campaign who would like to keep him at a distance.  And you have to remember that he is very closely aligned with David Bossy who was sort of exiled from the Trump orbit recently for raising money in a way that the President didn`t appreciate.

So, so much of the appearance today was to stay in the President`s good graces.  It really was a situation in which Lewandowski was playing to an audience of one.

And we saw the President tweet out from Air Force One how appreciative he was about Lewandowski`s, you know, fawning over the President and sort of his loyalty and his abstinence towards the Democrats.  And so I really think that so much of it was Lewandowski performing for the President and showing the President publicly that he would remain loyal.

WILLIAMS:  Jonathan Lemire, let`s talk about some cultural differences, Rick Wilson today tweeted that the Democrats brought a soup ladle to a gunfight.  And it`s true if you look at this committee as a group.  And let`s wildly generalize, most of them were student council presidents or involved with model U.N.  They drive sensible cars and wear sensible shoes, they are by the book Democrats, institutionalist, up against this guy who works for, or worked for a President who now has a pliant attorney general across town and this just might be the way the world works for a while.

JONATHAN LEMIRE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS:  Right.  At the end there when they brought in the professional counselor, they scored some points.  They put Lewandowski on the offensive, he acknowledged he lied to the media, which of course is not a crime, although I wish it were.

You know, but prior to that they didn`t really touch him.  Nicole was right, they were hapless.  It was another moment where Democrats weren`t able to really score points and Corey Lewandowski from Lowell, Massachusetts -- just like myself --


LEMIRE:  -- was someone who was clearly performing as Nancy said for the President and auditioning potentially for a Senate campaign.  He did launched a website during the intermission of this hearing today which goes to show you how seriously he was taking this that this is a moment where whether he`s actually follows through and runs or not.  It was him trying to prove to the President that he remains loyal.

Yet he was ousted at a key moment in the summer of 2016 after guiding the President through those early states, he then was pushed out before the convention and ever since then he`s been trying to claw his way back in.  He`s someone the President talks to from time to time.  There is resistance among Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and other Trump children to bring him back fully into the inner circle.  But the President still values him, and values his loyalty, and values him as a pit bull and that`s what we saw today.

He went on the attack and he would not play ball with the Democrats.  He wouldn`t, you know, concede any of their points and he fought and fought.  And in some ways showed again this sort of -- the inability the Democrats have had throughout this process.  They`ve had control of the House now for a while and have not been able to really touch the President in terms of any of these investigations and the talk of impeachment remains stalled.

WILLIAMS:  With special thanks for putting up with my overheated questions tonight, to Nancy Cook, to Michael Schmidt, to Robert Costa, to Jonathan Lemire, wow, great appreciation for joining us to our front four.  Thank you all so much.

And coming up, brand new poll numbers have the two top Democrats pulling away from the pack while a fascinating reshuffling of sorts goes on right beneath them.  We`ll have the story.  Steve Kornacki at the big board right after this.


WILLIAMS:  Well, we have a brand new NBC News "Wall Street Journal" poll.  It`s just been out for six hours, it`s already making news.  For what it shows and what it does not.

Back at the big board for us tonight, our friend Steve Kornacki, our National Political Correspondent.  Lot of news in this one, Steve.

STEVE KORNACKI, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS:  Yes, Brian.  I think there is.  Let`s start with this Joe Biden.  Obviously, our new poll here nationally, still the leader, but you could say in this poll he is hearing some footsteps.  Look at this, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, we`ve been talking for a long time now about how there`s sort of been a battle for second place between them.

Some polls you would see Warren a point or two ahead of Sanders.  Some polls you would see Sanders is a point or two ahead.  Biden would be double digits ahead of both of them.

Well, now in our new poll, first poll for us out after the debate last week, look at that, Warren now clearly attaining some separation from Sanders for second place.  And notably, she`s six points behind Biden for first, 11 points ahead of Sanders in that second or third there.  She`s closer to Biden for the lead in this poll than she is to Sanders for third place.

So this is something to look at going forward.  Are there other polls that show this?  Is Warren beginning to separate herself from Sanders and to start getting closer to Biden?  Why has Warren been able to do this?  It looks like two things are going on here.

Number one, we`ve talked about these similar messages between Warren and Sanders.  There are a lot of differences in their coalitions.  There is some overlap too.  There has been some overlap.  Where there`s been overlap, Warren now seems to be getting the better of Sanders.

Also, another reason Warren`s been able to do this, right here, Kamala Harris, you see, falling all the way back to 5 percent, 5 percent for Kamala Harris in this.  Remember after that first debate a couple months ago, there were national polls that had Kamala Harris moving up to within striking distance of Joe Biden now.  She`s all the way back to 5 percent.  Warren, it appears has been a major beneficiary of Harris, it slide back.

So you`ve got Biden the lead, you`ve got Warren in second, you`ve only got three candidates in double digits.  We can show you a couple of the major divides in this race.  Number one, it continues to be race.  White voters, take a look at this, Elizabeth Warren now in first place over Joe Biden among white voters.  If you break that down even further, white college educated, Warren running away with it, Biden doing a little better non- college.

Biden`s biggest source of strength continues to be African-American voters.  Warren, though, she has not always been this high.  I say these high, but double digits for Warren with black voters, that`s not always been the case.  Age continues to be a major divide as well.

Look at this, under 35 years old, youngest group, Sanders in first, Andrew Yang ahead of Joe Biden.  More voters.  Under 35 supporting Andrew Yang than the former Vice President but why is Biden still ahead overall?  Look at this, older voters particularly 65 plus, he`s running away with it there.

Major divides on race, major divides on age, Biden still ahead.  But Warren got to be encouraged by this one, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  And Mayor Pete happy to come up a few notches as well.  Steve Kornacki, as we said a lot of news in these numbers, thank you so much for guiding us through it.

Another break for us.  Coming up, the Trump versus Biden fight just got a bit uglier, more personal.



JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Play the radio, make sure the television -- excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the phone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He`s not the most polished speaker anymore.

BIDEN:  The president think -- my friend from Vermont thinks that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Watching his long-winding answers that don`t really make sense in recent debates, has also raise the question as to whether that has gotten worse, and whether he is up for this.


WILLIAMS:  Trump campaign goes there on Joe Biden`s age as a means to discredit him.  It`s an interesting means of attack, and Biden`s camp is understandably frustrated over what they complain is a false equivalence in coverage of their guy given what the President is capable of on a regular basis.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  They sacrifice every day for the furniture and future of their children.

I hope they now go and take a look at the oranges -- the origins of the investigation.

We appreciate it very much, Tim Apple.

Marillyn Lockheed.  Mike Bolton is, you know, is in Russia.

Mike Pence.  Justice, Anthony -- you know who I`m talking about.

In June of 1775, the Continental Congress created a unified army.  Our army manned the effort, it rammed the ramparts.  It took over the airports.

Based on the core principles of fairness, and reciprocity.  What?  It`s OK.

They could name it whatever they can name it, peaches.

And God bless the United States.


WILLIAMS:  Back with us tonight, two top political reporters covering the 2020 campaign and I can`t wait to hear what they have to say.  Our own NBC News Correspondent Mike Memoli, and Eliza Collins joins us once again, Politics Reporter for the "Wall Street Journal".

Mike, how will the Biden campaign respond to this latest attack that just, as I said, goes there on age, even though the word gaffes had been kind of retired when we saw what Trump was doing was very next level.  So it`s only kind of an FA (ph) key lazy journalism thing to use the word, however many missteps he makes.

MIKE MEMOLI, CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS:  Well, Brian, first I want to thank our friends at the Trump campaign --

WILLIAMS:  For including you.

MEMOLI:  -- for including me.  A lot of my friends and family who watch more Fox News and MSNBC have all been reaching out.  So appreciate that.  If you remember the conversation though that we were having there that night of the debate, I also pointed out that this conversation about Biden`s gaffes, his performance on the trail has primarily been one that`s quiet among his rivals, for the most part.  It`s been a delicate conversation.

And what you see with the Trump campaign doing tonight is a very effective strategy that they employed in 2016 as well, which is to look for those vulnerabilities among Democrats with Hillary Clinton and try to magnify them.  So that`s what they`re trying to do, is put a megaphone to those quiet conversations.

The Biden campaign is not responding to this video, I should say today, but what  they are repeating is simply this that this is not -- that, you know, negative coverage, and they say no Democratic candidate has had more negative coverage than him, is not moving voters and you see that in the poll numbers that we put out today.  That number, that 31 percent number is remarkably consistent, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  So Eliza, we saw that Castro paid a hell of a price for trying to go there on stage.  If you were watching the CNN post game, you saw Cory Booker pull out a really stealth stiletto (ph) and he went there in his kind of Ernest Rhodes scholar personality and likeness.  So I guess my question to you is, there is incoming fire from the Republicans, that`s expected, what do we expect from fellow Democrats?  Is anyone going to try to go there again?

ELIZA COLLINS, POLITICS REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  Well, the Trump campaign didn`t get this from nowhere.  This followed the debate where we did see Castro on stage go at Biden on this and then later Cory Booker did back him up.  A lot of Democrats were shocked, in particular, that Castro brought this up sort of in public, the idea of going after your own, they`re all on the same team but it did come out and we`re starting to see that, especially from younger candidates.

I talked to some Democrats afterwards who said, will Trump`s going to go there, let`s hash it all out.  So I think this is not going away.  I don`t think it`s going to come up in the same way the Trump campaign with this, you know, big video montages but Democrats are talking about it behind the scenes because they are concerned about Biden`s ability to go up against the President, though as -- still beating all of these Democrats consistently in polling and he`s also beating the president in most polls, or in all polls at this point.

WILLIAMS:  It`s tough out there on the road, and luckily Mike and Eliza are off the road long enough to talk with us.  They`ve agreed to wait with us over this break.

And coming up, the crowd size that got the President`s attention, and here`s a hint, it wasn`t his own.



SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE, MASSACHUSETTS:  I think the reason 20,000 people showed up last night is 20,000 people are not only ready for change, they are so ready for change that they`ll show up and get in the fight.  They are so ready for change that they`re saying, call on me, I will be part of this.


WILLIAMS:  People who walked by last night thought they saw the crowd and thought they might be giving something away as you heard there.  It`s estimated 20,000 strong packed Washington Square Park here in New York to hear Elizabeth Warren speak.  And when she was done, she stood there for four full hours and took pictures with everyone who wanted a photo.  4,000 people a fifth of the total crowd in a one-woman retail politics marathon.

Back for our double jeopardy round, Mike Memoli and Eliza Collins.  So Eliza, no gentle way to say this but a friend of mine put this question to me today.  We`re going to, I guess, find out what 20,000 people in Washington Square Park translates to in non-coastal Americans in the states the Democrats are going to need not only in the primaries but in the general.

COLLINS:  Right.  20,000 people is impressive.  It is a large number.  It does show Elizabeth Warren has momentum.  We talked about that poll in the last round.  But she needs to win in states like Pennsylvania, in Michigan, in Wisconsin and she`s probably -- she`s not drawing 20,000 people at this point so she`ll have to go out and campaign and the other Democrats are also campaigning in those states.  And that`s where it really matters.  That`s what could flip the election.

WILLIAMS:  Mike Memoli, it also strikes me we haven`t had a candid conversation about Bernie Sanders.  We`ve seen his dip in the numbers.  Even a stalwart supporter of his admitted to us last week that he shouted his way through that last debate and came off as a bit of a scold perhaps.  So the Biden campaign feels better, I guess, about them vis-a-vis Bernie but they do see the excitement deficit between them and Warren.

MEMOLI:  Yes, that`s right, Brian.  I mean, the two pieces of evolving conventional wisdom that have really started to harden, one is really reinforced by our own poll tonight.  One is that Elizabeth Warren is the candidate of enthusiasm and momentum.  And you`ve heard me say before about Biden that his biggest strength is his perceived strength.  I think we`re starting to see with Warren that, you know, momentum begets more momentum.  And the moment is largely coming at the expense of Bernie Sanders.

And it`s interesting among the Biden advisers, they`re very quietly starting to push more in her direction this question of electability.  And if you look at Biden`s strongest poll numbers are among African-Americans.  Hillary Clinton won the nomination, a delegate race against Bernie Sanders, because she swamped him in states with majority African-American electorates in Democratic primaries.  And until somebody can show that they`re going to dent Biden`s standing in that category, he`s really still in the driver`s seat.

WILLIAMS:  Two campaign correspondents, so energetic, so young, in such a cynical business, we thank you both for coming on.  We will always ask you to do the same.  Mike Memoli, Eliza Collins, greatly appreciate your time tonight.

MEMOLI:  Thanks, Brian.

WILLIAMS:  And coming up for us, remembering two giants in our line of work.



COKIE ROBERTS:  There`s been a special responsibility for female journalists and reporters to talk about how public policy affects women, how women in public office behave, how women voters are different from men voters that`s been something I`ve done throughout my career.  I`d like to be remembered as a mother and a wife and friend of people that I love very, very much.


WILLIAMS:  Which brings us to the last thing before we go tonight.  Her full name was Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs Roberts.  Thankfully that got shortened along the way to Cokie.

Cokie Roberts died of breast cancer complications today.  She was an essential explainer of politics in a business that didn`t always get that right.  A major player behind the scenes and a huge shaper of careers in our business.  And if that wasn`t enough to like, she was from Louisiana and not only that, she was a member of one of that state`s royal families.

Her father was Hale Boggs, House Majority Leader.  He died in a plane crash then her mother Lindy Boggs held that same congressional seat for almost 20 years.  That meant young Cokie had something of a marble childhood.  Growing up in the hallways of Congress and it informed her clear-eyed reporting on Washington for NPR and ABC News for decades.

For those fortunate enough to know her, there was no better friend, no greater mentor.  Few in the history of our industry have been smoother or wiser than Cokie Roberts gone at the age of 75.




WILLIAMS:  And then just like that, we learned that another giant had left us today.  Sander Vanocur rose to fame here at NBC.  He was the last surviving journalist to have taken part in that Kennedy-Nixon debate.  He went on to cover the Kennedy White House, became close with the family.  He interviewed Bobby Kennedy shortly before his assassination.  He covered political conventions, the war in Vietnam, the civil rights struggle including a lengthy interview with Dr. King.

Sandy Vanocur had an old school writer`s elegance and it didn`t hurt that he could write like nobody`s business.  He was a network staple back when the networks were staples.  He was 91 years old.

And that is our broadcast for this Tuesday night.  Thank you so much for being here with us, and good night from NBC News headquarters here in New York.

  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                                                     END